I stumbled out of bed at 6am, blearily stuffed a banana into my mouth, and shut the door quietly as I left the apartment. I had bus to catch. But this bus was not going to a grimy bus station, this bus was going to the Great Ocean Road.
It was still dark outside, and I caught an early morning tram to my chosen pick up location nearby. The tram stopped a few streets away so I had a short walk alone through the dark dawn, which was slightly scary at first, but then I remembered how safe Melbourne was, and that the only danger was drop bears.
The bus arrived about 15 minutes later, and I climbed aboard to greet my driver for the day. And what a top bloke of a driver he was. Shane was a Kiwi living in Australia, and unlike the bus driver described on Day One, he was neither balding or tubby, nor miserable for that matter. As I was the first one on the bus, I was able to have a good chat with him about his life, because just how do you end up driving daily along one of the greatest scenic drives in the world? Sadly, I didn’t write that down. Never let me report the news.
We slowly picked up people over the next hour before heading West along the coast. The highlight of the Great Ocean Road is undoubtedly the Twelve Apostles, a series of sea stacks that are not actually of twelve in number. Some have been eroded away, but there were never twelve to begin with. The phrase Twelve Apostles is a lie. Another phrase that’s a lie? £350m for the NHS. It’s fine, I’m definitely over it.
I was interested to see how the day would go, given that I would be stuck on a bus with strangers for 10 hours. I viewed it as an introvert test run for New Zealand, where I would be stuck on a bus with strangers for three weeks. There was a good mix of nationalities on board, and to my surprise I soon got chatting with a few of them. Karl was an American from Chicago dressed well and truly like an American, with his white sneakers and baseball cap; the uniform of the American tourist. Also on board were several Germans, a Malay couple, three girls from Manchester, and Amy from Maidenhead.
The GRO is a truly spectacular drive, far from the misery of the M25. But as beautiful as it is, the landscape also bears scars from the notorious bush fires which sweep through this region. On both sides of the road I saw blackened branches and logs from the previous incident.
Over 100 homes were lost to the flames during the last fire, which is traumatic for any family, but at Christmas time it’s simply even worse. Luckily, people opened up their homes to shelter those who had lost their own in the aftermath, and earlier this year sections of the road that were closed reopened.
By the time we arrived at the Twelve Apostles, it was still fairly early on in the day, but the popular destination was already bustling with tourists and helicopters buzzing overheard. It was a bit of a battle to get a decent viewpoint, and to move along you had to run the selfie stick gauntlet. Much like on the Skydeck, one wrong move and your head would be lopped from your shoulders. It reminded me of Raven’s final challenge from the popular CBBC show, ‘Raven’.
I found an acceptable viewpoint to enjoy the scenery. It was hard to believe it was real. The stacks looked like an alien world, or a really well done piece of SFX for a sci-fi movie. I asked Amy from Maidenhead to take a picture of the stacks and me, but it wasn’t til much later that I realised they definitely don’t teach photography in Maidenhead.
One day I shall have to return to get a photo of myself AND the stacks. Cheers Amz.
I was glad to climb back into the bus and the sweet relief of its air conditioning. It wasn’t sweater weather; it was sweaty weather. We were ready to depart when we realised we were missing our Germans. Seemingly unphased by this, Shane began to drive away, much to our surprise. ‘They’ll understand’, he said. ‘They’re German.’
It was at this point that Shane became my joint top bus driver of all time. They understood the values of punctuality and efficiency and so would not be offended, but we stopped a few seconds later to wait for them anyway.
My brief meeting and then separation from my fellow passengers once back in Melbourne made me realise that you can be absolutely anyone whilst travelling, because you’re never going to meet the people you speak to again (unless you want to). So it’s ok to have a quiet day if you want, or chat endlessly if you have the energy. In theory, you can live thousands of different lives. But what I noticed over the course of my adventure, was that because you can be anyone, you become who you really are. And yes, I know that’s something which sounds like it’s been freshly sliced from the Waitrose deli counter and then paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon and a large box of Carrs crackers.
Day 8: Epilogue
It was about 7pm and I was munching on a delicious burrito after a long day. My cousin had just popped out for something. Crackles, the cat, had decided to come over to the table. I decided to try and Snapchat him, because everyone knows cats make great snap content. I held my phone in one hand, with remainder of burrito in the other. Filming had begun, when suddenly a paw stretched out in the direction of my burrito. ‘NO’, I exclaimed, drawing my arm away from the furry beast. But alas, he stretched out again, seizing the warm tortilla in his firm claws. And with that, he was away, darting across the living room. I gave chase fruitlessly, and at one point I grabbed the what was left of the burrito, but he merely growled at me and clung on to his trophy. I panicked, partly because there was a trail of burrito smothered across the floor, and partly because I wasn’t sure if burritos were part of a cat’s dietary requirements. Luckily, I managed to clean up before my cousin returned, and when he did finally return I discovered cats can eat burritos.
And that’s how a cat stole my burrito.
Track of Day 8 – Smooth Criminal // Michael Jackson